BDA-3 DAC (Digital-to-Ana­log Con­verter)

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Dou­glas Brown

More Cana­dian than Dar­ryl Sit­tler sip­ping a dou­ble-dou­ble from Tim Hor­tons while hand­ing Terry Fox an au­to­graphed #27 Maple Leaf Jersey at the Toronto City Hall, Brys­ton has been man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sumer elec­tron­ics out of Peter­bor­ough On­tario since the early 1970s. To­day, Brys­ton sells a vast ar­ray of au­dio prod­ucts in­clud­ing amps, preamps, digital prod­ucts, speak­ers and even a turntable. In this re­view, we look at the BDA-3 ($3,495), Brys­ton’s cur­rent flag­ship Digital to Ana­log Con­verter (DAC). What’s a DAC you ask? You may not know it, but if you lis­ten to mu­sic then you use a DAC all the time. The DAC is a de­vice that’s re­spon­si­ble for con­vert­ing digital au­dio to an ana­log sig­nal that’s au­di­ble by the hu­man ear (and played by speak­ers or head­phones). The DAC sits be­tween the mu­sic source (CD player, your smart­phone, lap­top, etc) and your am­pli­fier and is crit­i­cally important in the over­all qual­ity of the mu­sic we hear. A high qual­ity DAC can make all the dif­fer­ence in the sound of your home or head­phone mu­sic sys­tem.


The BDA-3 is Brys­ton’s first DAC to in­clude DSD con­ver­sion. The unit can con­vert PCM, DSD, and DoP (DSD over PCM) en­coded digital sig­nals. The BDA-3’s front panel has three ver­ti­cal rows of LEDs. The first two rows in­di­cate what the in­com­ing PCM digital sig­nal sam­pling rate is. The third row shows which DSD sam­pling rate is be­ing fed into the unit. There’s one ‘On/Off’ but­ton lo­cated to the far right side and one ‘Up­sam­ple’ but­ton. There are also in­di­vid­ual but­tons for all of its in­puts. An op­tional re­mote con­trol (the BR- 2) costs $250 ex­tra. Users can up­sam­ple PCM streams by multiples of 44.1 KHz or 48KHz through the S/PDiF in­puts. It’s not pos­si­ble to up­sam­ple ei­ther na­tive DSD or DoP sig­nals. The BDA-3 fea­tures two AKM de­cod­ing chips which can con­vert bi­nary PCM-en­coded sig­nals up to 32-bit / 384 KHz res­o­lu­tion and DSD code up to 4 x na­tively. The unit offers an im­mense num­ber of au­dio source in­puts - a whop­ping to­tal of 10. These in­clude 4 x HDMI; 2 x Asyn­chronous USB; S/ PDiF over BNC, RCA, or Toslink (i.e. op­ti­cal) con­nec­tors; and 1 x bal­anced (AES/EBU). Com­puter based mu­sic play­ers and servers, SACD play­ers, Blu-ray trans­ports, TVs, and digital me­dia play­ers can all pass hi-res digital code up to the DSD-512 or 32/384 PCM level through the BDA-3’s USB in­puts; or up to 24/192 PCM sig­nals through its

HDMI in­puts.

The unit also has one HDMI digital out­put, one pair of sin­gle-ended RCA ana­log out­puts, and one pair of bal­anced XLR ana­log out­puts. For con­trol ap­pli­ca­tions, the BDA-3 comes with an RS-232 in­ter­face port, a USB con­trol port, and an Eth­er­net jack.

Chipsets alone do not guar­an­tee good son­ics. Achiev­ing true high-end sound also de­pends on the qual­ity of the power sup­ply, the way in which the D-to-A con­ver­sion is done, and the qual­ity of the out­put stage.

The power sup­ply in the BDA-3 is lin­ear, not switched. And it uses a fully bal­anced dual-dif­fer­en­tial DAC. This means that there are no phase-split­ters any­where in the sig­nal path. Brys­ton claims that in­te­grated cir­cuits (ICs) “…limit the band­width and dy­namic range of so many other DACs.” Ac­cord­ingly, there are no ICs any­where in the BDA-3’s pro­pri­etary solid state ana­log out­put sec­tion. To learn more tech­ni­cal de­tails about the BDA-3, I en­cour­age you to visit www.brys­


Kick­ing off my lis­ten­ing ses­sions, I con­ducted a num­ber of com­par­i­son tests be­tween Brys­ton’s BDA-1 DAC and their lat­est BDA-3 model, us­ing PCM mu­sic files. The BDA-3 con­sis­tently cre­ated bet­ter res­o­lu­tion, a much wider and deeper sound­stage and smoother pace, rhythm and tim­ing (PRaT). It also of­fered su­pe­rior lowlevel de­tail re­trieval com­pared to Brys­ton’s first DAC- the PCM-only model BDA-1.

For per­spec­tive, I fed the BDA-3 with PCM streams from sev­eral ref­er­ence CD trans­ports and also com­pared it to a num­ber of $5K to $15K-level tube and solid state out­board DACs.

With PCM sig­nals, the BDA-3 sep­a­rated in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments within a huge 3-di­men­sional sound­stage and painted in­stru­men­tal tim­bres with a pal­pa­ble mat­ter-of-fact­ness and im­me­di­acy.

Its sound was di­rect and ex­act; as op­posed to of­fer­ing tube-like warmth and liq­uid­ity. Neu­tral­ity is its forte. It will tell you how good, bad, or down­right ugly the sound qual­ity of the digital sig­nal that’s com­ing into it truly is.

This DAC doesn’t pull punches. If the record­ing’s su­perb, it’ll cre­ate a sound that will move your soul. If the son­ics are ugly, the sound will make you cringe.

For DSD-en­coded sig­nals, I lis­tened to sev­eral hi-res DSD ver­sions of Pa­tri­cia Bar­ber’s Mod­ern Cool on SACD and hi-res files from my lap­top and var­i­ous por­ta­ble digital me­dia play­ers.

The BDA-3 con­sis­tently recre­ated the com­plex rhythms of her songs ‘Win­ter’, ‘Touch of Trash’, ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Post Mod­ern Blues,’ ‘Let it Rain’, and ‘Si­lent Part­ner’ with re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate PRaT, mu­si­cal co­herency, and ex­act­ing de­tail.

Achiev­ing a be­liev­able sense of the strik­ing mi­cro and macro-dy­namic rhyth­mic shifts con­tained within Bar­ber’s songs is a chal­lenge to the best of sources. With most DACs, you can’t hear—let alone feel—the sub­tle touch of her nim­ble fin­gers on the pi­ano’s keys and strings. The BDA-3 re­vealed the lay­ered tex­tures and tim­bres of in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments heard on Mod­ern Cool with a re­al­ism and au­then­tic­ity that was a plea­sure to lis­ten to.

The Dead Weather is a heavy-al­ter­na­tive su­per group com­prised of Ali­son Mosshart (lead vo­cals), Jack Lawrence (bass), Dean Fer­tita (lead gui­tar), and Jack White (drums). Their de­but al­bum Hore­hound was re­leased in 2009 and fea­tures heavy-handed gui­tar lines, ag­gres­sive rhythms, and in­spired drums and per­cus­sion.

Their songs toss el­e­ments of the blues, psy­che­delic rock, and garage punk into a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic blender and pour out a sound that’s fairly unique. If you liked what Jack White did with the White Stripes, you’ll very likely en­joy The Dead Weather.

Brys­ton’s flag­ship DAC ren­dered Mosshart’s vo­cals with a stun­ning clar­ity and a knife- edged ten­sion that was both cap­ti­vat­ing and, at times, un­nerv­ing. With songs like ‘ Hang You from the Heav­ens’, ‘I Cut like a Buf­falo’, ‘Treat Me like your Mother’, ‘Pony’, and ‘Will there be Enough Wa­ter?’, the BDA-3 cre­ated an im­mense amount of sonic de­tail across the en­tire fre­quency spec­trum. And, thank­fully, this de­tail was har­mon­i­cally ac­cu­rate, while not caus­ing the typ­i­cal ring­ing high-band lis­ten­ing fa­tigue which most solid state DACs in­duce.

With hi-res DSD files, sound­stage height, width, and depth were all phys­i­cally larger with the BDA-3 in the digital play­back chain. This en­hanced 3-di­men­sion­al­ity in­cluded more ac­cu­rate po­si­tion­ing of in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments within the sound­stage. The re­sult…? Mu­sic of many gen­res was con­sis­tently much more in­tense and in­volv­ing.

The BDA-3’s PRaT wasn’t quite as smooth or warm as $10K+ level tube DACs. And yet, the BDA-3’s dy­namic range was ref­er­ence cal­iber. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, this DAC’s ‘star­tle’ fac­tor when the vol­ume in­creased from whis­per-to-scream in­ten­sity lev­els, in­deed, star­tled me.

Brys­ton’s goals with the BDA-3 were: one, to un­leash a ref­er­ence cal­iber DAC for tra­di­tional au­dio­philes; and two, to also of­fer com­puter users top shelf 2-chan­nel sound from USB and HDMI in­ter­faces via state-ofthe-art ul­tra high bit D-to-A con­ver­sion.

The BDA-3’s low-level de­tail re­cov­ery, mu­si­cal­ity, and neu­tral­ity are all ref­er­ence cal­iber. With count­less songs, Brys­ton’s flag­ship DAC re-cre­ated the mu­si­cians’ in­ten­tions with far greater clar­ity, in­sight, and per­spi­cac­ity than I’ve ever heard be­fore; es­pe­cially with SACDs and na­tive DSDen­coded digital files.

No other out­board DAC that ex­ists to­day offers so many con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions, has such a goose­bump in­duc­ing sound qual­ity, and, by au­dio­phile stan­dards, has such a rea­son­able price.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.